Black Friday came early this year as retailers raced to make the most of the shortest holiday shopping season in years. Our social team was there for it all, actively listening and analyzing brand and consumer chatter, and uncovered several prominent shifts in conversation as deal seekers hopscotched from stores to the web and back again.

1. Engaged Brands
Last year, many brands used Black Friday to test “real-time” marketing, specifically on Twitter. Throughout 2013, we saw brands apply those learnings and fully integrate social listening and real-time engagement into their overall marketing strategy. Brands continued their efforts this year, both pushing content and engaging users, which led to a more steady flow of conversation. Here’s a #BlackFriday social share of voice snapshot.

2. Conversation Consistency
Early openings and longer operating hours clearly affected engagement patterns. Conversations were up overall with social chatter beginning earlier on Thursday night and remaining strong into Friday as opposed to the dramatic spikes seen in previous years. Conversations mentioning Black Friday or #Blackfriday peaked on Friday at 11am.

3. More Backlash
However, not all conversations were positive. Social users were more outspoken than ever about the shopping holiday. Negative conversations seemed elevated and more intense over last year, with #walmartfights and #brawlmart trending for much of Friday morning and many consumers called out that they’d rather stay at home and shop online than deal with the Hunger Games-esque in-store experience. And consumers put their money where their mouth was –– online sales were up nearly 20% over last year and traffic at brick and mortar stores was down 11%.

4. Disappointing Deals
While deals began early, discounts this year were not as deep as years past and people definitely noticed. Consumers are so hyper-focused on getting a deal that they are not as compelled by everyday lower prices. It’s become clear that“Black Friday Week” is all about electronics and devices, with flash sales on everything from TVs to tablets leading the charge. Across specialty apparel the deal du jour seemed to be deep all-encompassing discounts (and maybe even free shipping) to get consumers to bite on clothing purchases with Banana Republic, Talbots, Gap, and Express, and others offering 50% off everything.

5. Branded Hashtags
Many brands and retailers created their own branded hashtags and encouraged fans to use them as they were standing in line, trying on items and sharing their hauls. And while some earned marks for creativity [one that broke through this weekend was our #DiGiorNOYOUDIDNT football smack talk for DiGiorno], many efforts fell flat without a clear voice, purpose and authentic real-time engagement. One best-in-class example was Target’s #MyKindofHoliday, thanks to its integration with their holiday marketing campaign.

Overall, it’s refreshing to see brands no longer looking at real-time social as a “special event tool” and instead making it an integral part of their marketing mix. While we applaud the effort, we know this trek through December is a retail marathon and integration falls flat if not supported by a robust team, smart planning and seamless integration.

The season has officially begun, now let’s see how far retailers will go to engage consumers and their wallets.

For even more Black Friday analysis, check out our in-depth Black Friday report.

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Resource is the country’s largest independent, digitally-led marketing agency, with more than 400 employees and offices in Columbus, Chicago, Cincinnati and San Francisco. We build OPEN Brands that empower consumers and deliver results through creativity, technology, and content. Marketers such as Clorox, CVS, HP, Kohl’s, P&G, Purina, and Sherwin-Williams turn to us for our ability to turn passive consumers into passionate brand advocates.  For more information visit: